My memories of the 4th of July while living at my grandparent’s farm are of sitting on the back porch watching the younger children running, shouting and giggling while holding sparklers and setting off firecrackers. I would sit there silently listening to the adults and watching the farm dogs hide in an attempt to get away from the noise of the fireworks. All this while waiting for the big family dinner, usually consisting of potato salad, fried chicken, and—don’t forget—the watermelon. It was always a very happy occasion.
Even though I had read the Declaration of Independence as a requirement in school, back then I was oblivious to the true meaning of the day 245 years ago that we celebrate today. The price paid by those who fought for our freedom from tyranny placed on the colonies by King George III and the British aristocracy was tremendous.
In 1775, Thomas Paine wrote an intense, detailed pamphlet entitled Common Sense that inspired the Declaration of Independence. In it he spoke of how the colonies were drawn into fighting Britain’s wars and then subjected to new taxes to compensate for the cost of those wars.
He also spoke of the English Constitution, in which there is first the king, a monarch who is a hereditary ruler. Second are the peers, the hereditary aristocracy known as the House of Lords. And third are the commons, which are the common people represented by the House of Commons. It is made very clear in Common Sense how the voice of the people in the House of Commons was unheard because the peers were supportive of the king and the king was the final voice in any decision.
“But there is another and greater distinction of which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned and that is the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery of mankind.”—Thomas Paine
We get a small taste of those times when people were fighting the revolution. Many soldiers kept a diary of their experiences. Here is a quote from the diary of Jeremiah Greenman, a young man in the Continental Army (I am presenting the quote in his own voice and spelling).
“Tuesday 31 October 1775. Set out this morn very early – left 5 sick men in the woods that was not abel to march – left two well men with them but what litel provision thay hed did not last them – we gave out of our little – every man gave sum but the men that was left was obliged to leave them to the mercy of the wild beast – this day we ware pasing along the river we saw 3 cannows that went forward with the advance party stove against ye rok (rocks) – we had very bad travilling the woods and swamps – our provision being very short hear we killed a dog – I got a small piece of it and sum broth that it was boyled with great deal of trubel – then, lay down took our blancots and slept – very harty for the times.”
As anyone can hear in the words of Jeremiah Greenman, this was a harsh time for those who were standing up for liberty in the face of tyranny. A revolution fought so that citizens and not kings and queens should make the laws that they lived by.
“…for independence means no more than this, whether we shall make our own laws or whether the king, the greatest enemy this continent hath or can have, shall tell us ‘there shall be no laws but such as I like.’”—Thomas Paine
For those who have not read Common Sense, it is inspiring from the standpoint that it speaks to the importance of the voice of the people; that should always be the first consideration.
Enjoy this 4th of July and please take a little time to be grateful to those who were so brave in their quest for freedom